Cameron Crouch is author of the forthcoming 'Managing Terrorism and Insurgency: Regeneration, Recruitment and Attrition'.

The recently-released Defence White Paper is an ambitious document. It proposes the acquisition of significant maritime and aerospace capabilities and the expansion of the ADF to approximately 57,800 personnel. Attracting sufficient numbers of recruits to help realise these goals will be (as the White Paper notes) ‘one of the most significant challenges facing Defence.’

To meet this challenge, the White Paper canvasses a number of proposals, including improved remuneration, providing greater flexibility in housing choices, and the development of a Multicultural Recruitment Strategy. These are worthy prescriptions, but are primarily focused on increasing demand for ADF positions. There would thus appear scope for Defence to develop complementary strategies aimed at increasing the supply of potential recruits.

A possible means of achieving this goal is through an expanded and formalised Overseas Recruitment Scheme. This would seek to fill a proportion of Defence’s recruitment shortfall by enlisting unseasoned foreigners. Specifically, people without Australian citizenship or permanent residency and who do not necessarily have previous military training.

The underlying principle is that prospective recruits would be offered the promise of Australian citizenship in exchange for a fixed period of service (say, 10 years). A similar exchange has underpinned the French Foreign Legion since its inception in 1831. The American military is also reportedly considering offering a path to citizenship for temporary immigrants in an attempt to stem its manpower deficit.

To target potential recruits, Defence could identify a dozen diplomatic posts around the world (such as those in Nadi, Manila and Johannesburg), chosen for their propensity to attract sufficient numbers of high quality personnel. Aspiring recruits would be required to register their interest at these selected posts. This would include preliminary medical, psychological and security screening. Those that passed this initial vetting would then be invited to attend (at their own cost) a formal selection process in Australia or some other designated location.

There are two means by which Defence could manage the placement of successful overseas recruits. The first of these would be to restrict overseas recruits to a separate unit, though mixed with Australian service personnel. The second would be to spread overseas recruits across existing units, with possible limits on the number of overseas recruits per unit relative to Australian personnel. While the former approach has a number of security advantages, the latter would seem more appropriate if Defence’s goal was one of integration and cohesion.

Besides helping to alleviate recruitment pressures, an Overseas Recruitment Scheme would have several benefits. Personnel recruited under such a scheme will face considerable incentives (eventual Australian citizenship) and disincentives (possible deportation and sunk costs) to fulfil their fixed period of service and maintain a level of good behaviour. They are thus less likely to pose retention and disciplinary challenges.

Overseas recruits would also bring with them language skills and cultural knowledge and understanding. These characteristics would help bolster Defence’s intelligence capability, as well as its operational capability on overseas deployments.

A possible concern is that foreign recruits could act contrary to the national interest (such as by passing on information to hostile intelligence agencies). This is a real risk, but not one that cannot be managed by Defence, similar to how it already manages the security risk of permanent resident and citizen recruits (eg. through the use of psychological screening and risk profiling). The intense socialisation of life as a service member also has the potential to strengthen the loyalties of foreign recruits towards their comrades-in-arms and adopted country.

Photo by Flickr user Leonard John Matthews, used under a Creative Commons license.